Vedā: Māyā

One of the important buzzwords of the Vedantic world is māyā. What is māyā, how to face it, is it “good” or “bad” for “mokṣa”, and so forth.

Here, we have to see what Māyā stands for in Vedas, and how it is described.

Māyā comes from √mā (mā māne) which means “to configure”, “to measure”, “to model”. The contextual meaning is of course in the sense of a “model” which is forged to demarcate and describe reality. Indeed, māyā is a kind of forging, though as you see, can also stand for forgery. What we fail to realize is that we exist only because of this forging. We forge the models on which our perception becomes meaningful. We are real because we discern. Discernment exists because we forge to discern – we make the māyā.

Imagine yourself seeing a portrait. Instead of just a display of colors, you are able to identify what the portrait portrays – by forging the frames in your mind to fit the shapes, colors and “identify” by “comparison” what the portrait is all about. Even with a sketch of a pencil with just the “outlines”, your mind is able to forge the reality that I intended to draw Gandhi. So, forging is not at all bad. It is that which makes us wise, the very reason why our brain gains experience and why “we” exist. Māyā is literally the meaning of existence. When I thought of Gandhi and I drew using my talent some curves with my pencil, you could recreate the experience of Gandhi from it.

Exactly this is the very basis of Vedic Brahmanism as a religion. We “forge” our rituals to relate and immerse ourselves into being ourselves. Therefore, yajña is a construct of māyā. And māyā is the power of yajña. Which is why exactly in Rigveda, we “weave” out the yajña, and yajña has its māna and pratimāna. (Measure and countermeasure) Indeed the one who possesses māyā is spirit. Without spirit, there is no discernment or māyā. Hence, māyā is for asuras, and for the same reason, in Rigveda, the greatest devas are asuras.

While the perceived reality is māyā, does it mean māyā is the reality? No. Let us understand this. Suppose I am bad at drawing. Then, my sketch of Gandhi might look to you as Sardar Patel. My “version” of reality didn’t match with yours. I cannot blame you. I cannot blame myself too. But I have to blame one thing – that māyā which I forged to action, which was actually inadequate or incomplete to generate the experience in you as I felt. I didn’t have the talent to generate that level of māyā. So, I failed to induce the reality of Gandhi through the drawing.

So, to the tricky questions. Should māyā ever be blamed? When is it to be resisted or destroyed? Should there be a māyā? Is it ever possible to “be” after transcending māyā?

The answer is simple – the māyā is right when it conforms to, underline the three-lettered word again, Ṛta. It is the Ṛta that makes māyā real. When my talent was in sync with Ṛta, I could create a portrait of Gandhi, which anyone who had seen Gandhi could identify. Why did Vedas have a whole set of ritual enactments and had all the symbols in yajña? Not because they were fanatical about their rituals like the medieval ritualists, but because the ritual was the Ṛta for them. Every Vedic Brahmanic rite stands as a symbolic enactment for the same reason. We forge the reality through which we understand the certain dimensions of our worlds. We create the devas through the māyā of Yajña, in turn, inspired by devas. The sages see the sun that is created by the Asura; the spirit; by heart, through wisdom.

Discrimination is a key quality of māyā. Hence, it is only expected that you associate this with Varuṇa. And you see that Varuṇa is evidently the possessor of the Asuric māyā – he is the one who tells us that we are separate as an entity in this world. It is he who makes the sunshine, the natural living. When Varuṇa wills, it happens. Because his māyā is the will. It is not a coincidence that Varuṇa is the one to whom our actions are to be justified. His will is apparently in accordance with Ṛta. If our māyā was not in accordance with Ṛta, we incur guilt. This enas has to be justified to Varuṇa in us.

While Agni is the creative power of māyā, and Varuṇa the discriminative, there is a point at which māyā becomes the reality or just the opposite. Only the right māyā can destroy the “wrong” one. Who does this?

You return to the greatest wielder of māyā, who by his māyā, destroys and corrects the māyā of those in the path of anṛta. Ṛta is what is the subjective reality or the “relatable reality”. (For example, that the outlines or sketch conveys Gandhi) Anṛta is that what is not a relatable reality. Which is false, a lie, that shouldn’t exist. There comes him, crushing the fortresses. Killing the Vṛtra. Destroying the māyins by māyā. Indra. He who “enables” Ṛta again.

By the philosophy of Vedānta, Buddhism, and Jainism, their analogous state corresponding to the end of this Vṛtra should be their equivalents of mokṣa or nirvāṇa or whatever the ideal spiritual destination be. They view Māyā as a hindrance, building what we call the Vṛtras. As a result, their view of the world is dark, as a burden, a distraction. You cannot blame them. That is exactly what people trapped in a wrong māyā have to worry about, and should do.

But, does Indra end everything by just destroying the Vṛtra? No. He goes forth, to release the seven streams (for all those who haven’t yet understood, seven is the number of holes in your head through which you connect with the world) and thus reactivating the seven sages in you to express, to carve their māyā again. That is where the great Viṣṇu comes and strides forward, making the light shine. And that is where Vedas take the step beyond what Vedānta thinks – how to re-emerge and synthesize what you must be. How to synthesize reality again? How to synthesize your perception. In short, how to create your māyā. The guide is there around us – the nature of which we are a part of. If we can relate nature with ourselves through any artistic way, as the sages attempt through their unparalleled verses, we are almost there. We become the possessors of māyā that is divine, that is true.

So, mokṣa, (esp. the “Jīvanmukti”) as I said in the previous post, is not to be the end of anything. It should only be the beginning of what you have to be. If you don’t acknowledge that, you end up thinking you are devoid of māyā, while being in this very world, inside the cage of your māyā.

Author/Researcher: Kiron Krishnan
Jan 9th, 2020